A woman who had been bedridden for over a year due to a neurodegenerative disease has achieved get up and walk thanks to a electronic implant that has reactivated the spinal cord nerves.
The system has been developed by a team of scientists from the NeuroRestore research center in Switzerland led by Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV), and by Grégoire Courtine, professor of neuroscience at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL). .
The implant had formerly used to treat low blood pressure in tetraplegic patients, but it is the first time which applies to a person with a neurodegenerative disease.
The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, explains that the patient suffered from multiple system atrophy of the parkinsonian type (MSA-P), a neurodegenerative disease that affects various parts of the nervous system, including the sympathetic nervous system.
AMS-P causes lossloss of sympathetic neurons that regulate blood pressurewhich drops dramatically as soon as patients are upright – a problem known as orthostatic hypotension – and can cause fainting.
These patients are more likely to fallhave limited ability to stand and walk and suffer a significant reduction in quality of life, as they must remain reclined to avoid passing out.
The researchers placed the implant directly into the spinal cord of the patient to reactivate the neurons that regulate blood pressure and prevent her from losing consciousness when standing up.
How does it act?
The implant, which consists of electrodes connected to a generator of electrical impulses that is commonly used to treat chronic pain, improved the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure and allowed the patient to be conscious in an upright position and able to undergo physical therapy to return to walking.
After being bedridden for eighteen months, the implant allowed women to walk up to 250 meters. And, for Bloch, this breakthrough paves the way for important clinical advances in the treatment of degenerative diseases.
“We have already seen how this type of therapy can be applied to patients with a spinal cord injury. But now we can explore applications in the treatment of impairments resulting from neurodegeneration.”
In fact, Courtine explains, “this technology was initially intended for pain relief, not for these kinds of applications,” but in the future “we plan to develop a system specifically targeting orthostatic hypotension” to help people with this disorder.